x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Cavs and Celtics: renewing a bitter rivalry

For the second time in three years, the Cavaliers and the Celtics are matched up in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

LeBron James, of Cleveland, right, and Boston's Paul Pierce will resume hostilities.
LeBron James, of Cleveland, right, and Boston's Paul Pierce will resume hostilities.

LeBron James's famed right elbow is the only thing drawing attention. Bitter enemies, the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers are exchanging elbows, shoves, insults and baskets in the NBA play-offs. And this reunion, like the others, is not peaceful. "We don't like them, they don't like us," Mo Williams, the Cavaliers guard, said. "It's obvious." For the second time in three years, the Cavaliers and the Celtics are matched up in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, renewing a sweltering rivalry that has grown with intensity. They opened the best-of-seven series last night beneath a constantly ticking scoreboard inside Quicken Loans Arena.

Forget the buzzer. Maybe a ring-side bell would be better to signal the end of each quarter. "It's going to be a good heavyweight fight," Boston's Paul Pierce said of the series. The Celtics and the Cavs, who played a knock-down-drag-out series won by Boston in seven games two years ago, have been pummelling each other for some time. A few years back, Pierce spit in the direction of Cleveland's bench during an exhibition game. Last October, the teams got into a minor fracas during a pre-season game in Columbus, Ohio, when Williams retaliated with an elbow after being flung to the floor by Shelden Williams, the Celtics forward, who just happens to be the brother-in-law of Anthony Parker, the Cleveland forward.

Even James's mom, Gloria, once got into it with Pierce, screaming at him after he wrapped up her baby boy on a breakaway dunk during the 2008 play-offs. Tempers flared during the team's previous meeting on April 4. Down by 22 points in the third quarter, the Cavaliers stormed back before losing 117-113 in a game that featured six technical fouls, the ejection of Mike Brown, the Cavaliers coach, and some animated, R-rated trash talk between James and Boston's Kevin Garnett and Tony Allen.

"They do a lot of talking," James said. "At some point in time they back it up, too. We're looking forward to it. We're not much of a talking group, but we're not going to back down from anybody. It's going to be a really fun, really physical series." James, who will accept his second straight MVP trophy in Akron, entered the series with an injured right elbow that he says has been bothering him on and off for weeks. An MRI scan revealed a sprain and bone bruise, and James is wearing a padded, protective sleeve to help absorb any contact. On Friday, he didn't seem bothered by the elbow while shooting mid-range jumpers during the portion of Cleveland's practice that was open to the media. The mystery surrounding James' injury provided an intriguing subplot leading into the series, but Boston players were wary.

"I figure this," Pierce said, "LeBron with a bad elbow is still better than 95 per cent of the league. So it doesn't matter." * AP